Friday, August 04, 2006

Expert Urges Greater Environmental Oversight of Ethanol Industry

Galesburg Register-Mail
August 4, 2006

GRANVILLE - Illinois isn't doing enough to enforce environmental standards in the "hot and sexy" ethanol industry as developers race to build plants, a former Illinois Pollution Control Board official said.

Claire Manning, who chaired the IPCB for 10 years and is now a private-practice attorney in Springfield, appeared on behalf of a labor-related environmental organization at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Bureau of Air's hearing Tuesday night for a construction permit sought by Marquis Energy LLC for a 110-million gallon plant just north of Hennepin.

While emphasizing "ethanol can be a boon" to local economies in corn country, Manning called the IEPA's 65-page draft permit for the Marquis project a "sham permit" that would allow the plant to operate "under the radar" of current federal standards because "it takes virtually each and every assertion of the developer at face value" rather than requiring proof.

"The permit as drafted avoids virtually all of the new federal Clean Air Act rules that have been promulgated in recent years to protect the environment, especially the quality of our air and the safety of our workers and citizens," said Manning, a native of neighboring Bureau County.

And with some 40 ethanol plants in development statewide, it's crucial that the IEPA not issue permits "in such a lax way," Manning argued. Developers should have to use the "best available control technology" on air emissions, which the Marquis permit would not require, she maintained.

In central Illinois alone, construction plans also have been announced for plants in Pekin, Canton, Princeton, Galva, Annawan, Hartsburg and Tuscola.

"Because ethanol is such a hot and sexy issue, there's a rush to judgment in approving these projects," Manning said. "I urge the IEPA to be more careful in its review of this permit - and, more generally, of this burgeoning industry."

Manning's remarks, made on behalf of California-based Legal and Safety Employer Research Inc., came during a nearly two-hour hearing in which nearly all comments from a crowd of about 80 were critical or skeptical about the project itself or the IEPA's regulatory role. Granville resident Jim Brooker said he had come to the hearing assuming the plant would be a good thing but would leave wondering whether the agency's regulations meant anything.

"I'm really shocked at the things we've been hearing tonight," he said.

Bill Roddy, a Wichita, Kan.- based consultant who has extensive experience in the ethanol industry and wrote the Marquis permit application, defended the draft as "a very rigorous, very well-written, and enforceable permit."

After some residents expressed concern about odors, Roddy acknowledged "odor was really what brought the ethanol industry to its knees a few years ago." But that problem has been solved by new technologies, he maintained.

"I don't think you'll smell anything off-property," Roddy said.

Jim Rapp, a Princeton corn farmer, called ethanol production "the best rural development in at least 50 years," because it would lead to higher farm incomes that would spread throughout the local area.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason to oppose this construction or oppose the development of ethanol anywhere in this state," Rapp said.

Organized labor was heavily represented at the hearing, and Putnam County Board member Chauntelle Biagi of Granville asked Marquis officials a question union leaders have been raising for the past several weeks.

"You're going to be using our water. You're going to be making our backyards stink. Are you going to be using our local work force as well?" she asked.

Neither company president Mark Marquis nor any other officials replied, and Biagi said later that she was "disappointed at the silence." She also pointed out that developers had not fully answered questions on such issues as the plant's water supply and the impact on local roads of increased heavy truck traffic.

Also questioned was excavation that already going was on at the site when no permit has been issued. That's a legal issue on which the IEPA has "received a lot of calls," said hearing officer Alec Messina.

"The law allows for some work to be done before construction commences," Messina said. "It's very technical."

Written comments on the project will be accepted until Aug. 31, and the agency will respond with a written report, said an IEPA spokesman. But there is no specific timetable for that.

No comments: